Photo CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr user Alec Wilson

Next time you find yourself frustrated with the typical inconveniences of air travel, imagine this…

The day has arrived. You’ve been dreaming about Bali for years, and now it’s finally time to experience its beauty. But before you cross the Pacific, you need to make it to San Francisco, where you’ll catch your international connection.

Approaching the gate at your home airport, luggage in tow, you hit a massive crowd of travelers waiting for your flight and the next three flights leaving from the gate after yours.

This airline doesn’t do boarding groups; everyone has the same priority and stands in the same line. From the back of the line, you observe that even though the jet bridge doors have opened, nearly everyone in front of you has a different issue which must be resolved before they can board. One person forgot to bring the required identification. The family of three behind her only has two tickets. The next traveler’s name is misspelled on his boarding pass. And so on, down the line.

The fact that your ticket is correct and your papers are in order confers you no advantage whatsoever. It’s not fair. It makes no sense. You can think of 10 ways to improve the process, but none that will help you today.

Now it’s an hour past your scheduled departure time, with no resolution in sight. Will your Bali dream be deferred once again?

This is essentially what was happening—but to air cargo—at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport, which moves 1.7 million tonnes of freight annually.

The cargo area would see up to 80 trucks arrive at random, in rapid succession, but the facilities could only process six to eight per hour. It was a serious mess:

…no truck had priority, and not only did this cause congestion, but also there was no incentive for the forwarder to produce correct paperwork, as trucks would end up waiting in the queue in any case.

The root cause of the chaos, according to Simon Spoor, Project Manager for Air France KLM Martinair Cargo, was the handling of customs compliance errors, which afflict “85% of the 1.2 million air waybills” KLM ships per year. “We would solve the same issues, fix everything that needed fixing, then do it again the next week,” said Spoor.

The solution? To reduce warehouse congestion, treat air cargo like air passengers, which creates a fast lane for pristine paperwork and prevents those bearing incorrect paperwork from causing delays and other inefficiencies.

“Cargo is very old-school,” said Spoor, “so we designed and implemented a passenger-like process together with forwarders, handlers and truckers.”

For the new system to work, the data had to flow between stakeholders in the cargo supply chain, just as passenger information flows between carriers, airport operations personnel, and government agencies. Modern data sharing in action.

“Rather than checking every single air waybill for errors manually, the European Green Fast Lane program advises us which of them have errors, and marks the location of the errors,” said Spoor. When freight forwarders share shipment data and pre-identified errors earlier, cargo handlers can anticipate and prepare for the required checks.

Warehouses are now being modified to handle more trucks per hour, and according to the European Green Fast Lane website, “the amount of concrete information we now have is leading to real process change” and “facilitating conversations about how things are working in the real world, leading to clarity, cooperation, and understanding.”

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